A Brief History of Recent Catholic Political Discourse
In the United States, 2016 A.D. was a dramatic year in political history, with a surge of socialist organizing around the Democratic Primary bid of Senator Bernie Sanders and the unexpected election of President Donald Trump. It was also the year when a group of Catholics made headlines by launching the “Tradinista!” project dedicated to an orthodox synthesis of Marxism and Catholic Social Teaching. In September 2016, Matthew Schmitz (who at the time supported the project, before changing his positions) published a summary of how the group began (“I Think I’m Not A Contra“), therein describing their fierce opposition to any “defender of free love or free markets.” In an article for the Catholic Herald, Jose Mena, a founding member of the group, stated that their purpose was to “defend traditional orthodoxy and espouse the radical politics in service of the common good.” Despite their initial popularity, due to internal conflicts, the Tradinista project soon fell apart. An archive of their work can be found below.
This project was made possible by what Kevin Gallagher has called “The Eclipse of Catholic Fusionism“. Though there is a long history to “Americanist” Catholicism, he writes that the term “fusionism” refers specifically “to the conservative political movement attempting to combine social conservatism and free-market capitalism… In the eyes of Catholic fusionists, their views were simply the correct application of Catholic principles to contemporary problems: the Church was to stand on the side of political and economic liberty against communism, and on the side of social and moral order against the sexual revolution.” This conservative-liberal version of Catholicism was especially promoted by Michael Novak’s book The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (1982), as well as later organizations such as Acton Institute, the magazine First Things, and the Witherspoon Institute.
During the dark age of fusionism, only a small number of counter-cultural Catholics kept the flame of truth alive. The writings of such distributist, traditionalist, or otherwise radical thinkers could be found in the Catholic Worker, Caelum et Terra, and the American Chesterton Society. After the Great Recession of 2008 and Pope Benedict XVI’s Social Encyclical Caritas In Veritate one year later, Catholics took a renewed interest in the Church’s economic teaching. The fusionist consensus broke down even further after conservatism proved utterly powerless to prevent the legalization of gay marriage in the Supreme Court cases Windsor (2013) and Obergefell (2015).
This brings us to the present day, when many devout Catholics and other people of goodwill are recognizing the lies of liberalism and the injustices of capitalism. Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si’ (2015), Andrew Willard Jones’ Before Church and State (2017), Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed (2018), and Eugene McCarraher’s The Enchantments of Mammon (2019) have become the foundational texts for a new generation of Catholic thinkers. Throughout this time, The Josias, founded in October 2014 “to articulate a truly Catholic political stance”, has served as an excellent manual of translations and academic treatises on “integralism” and other traditional Catholic Social Teaching. (Pater Edmund Waldstein, a Josias editor, has written insightful comments on the Tradinista project here and here.)
Our own work at Tradistae was founded to promote the praxis demanded by these teachings, especially the Works of Mercy. On Pentecost 2019, inspired by the Catholic Worker, we launched a series of Easy Essays to provide short and non-academic writings “to provide straightforward answers to simple questions” about distributism, integralism, and Catholic Social Teaching. You can learn more about us here.
The Tradinista! Archive
At Tradistae, we absolutely reject the ideology of Marxism, which responded to the evil of capitalism with its own evils. Many Encyclicals have discussed the errors of Marxism at length and Our Lady of Fatima specifically predicted and condemned the “errors of Russia” (referring to Bolshevik Communism). Likewise, we reject the label of “socialism” and place ourselves in the distributist tradition, as did Dorothy Day and G.K. Chesterton.
Nonetheless, we recognize the importance of liberation theology, which has guided and inspired many recent Saints, Blesseds, and Servants of God. Therefore, we value the writings of the Tradinista project for their exposition of MacInytre’s Thomism, their commitment to orthodox principles, and their contribution to the on-going project of overcoming liberalism, capitalism, and modernity so that, through the grace of God, we may build a world dedicated to the Social Kingship of Christ.